This is a blog post about control: our toddler's control. Control of what she says, control of what she does, control of when she goes pee pee on the potty. A while ago we tried potty training with mixed results. We'd have to prod Olivia to try and go, but most of the time she ended up just going in her pull-up. We knew that in order for Olivia to attend Pre-K this September she needed to be fully potty trained, so we had to get serious and find something that worked. I did some internet searching and found a good program by Jam and Lewis, which called for patience, drum machines, synthesizers and lots of underpants. Unfortunately this was vetoed by my wife and we ended up trying a 3 Day method that we found online. Ready or not, it was time to give Olivia control. Lots of it. But was she ready?
Track 1: Control
Positive attitudes? Check. Sticker chart and rewards? Check. Alcohol for the end of the day when our child is asleep and our patience has been exhausted? Check. We started by getting Olivia out of bed and making a huge deal out of the fact that today was "Big Girl Day." There were balloons, cheers, a key to the city presented to her by the mayor and lots of underpants for Olivia to choose from. We explained what the day meant, reminded her to tell us when she felt like she needed to go potty, and pointed out the big girl toilet where all business transactions would need to go down from here on out. She was excited, and frankly so were we, because no more diapers or pull-ups sounded like a dream come true.
After picking out the inaugural pair of underpants we all sat down on our living room couch to eat breakfast. Olivia had requested a bagel with cream cheese and we threw in chocolate milk as a treat; something to help set the positive tone and entice her into compliance. Big girls who go pee pee on the potty get the better things in life: chocolate milk, underpants with cartoon characters on them, timeshares in Aruba, etc. We were all smiles, enthusiasm...and then she peed on the couch.
We knew it was going to happen sooner or later, and we put on our best faces when it did. We cleaned Olivia up, remained positive, reminded her to tell us when she felt like she had to go and resumed our breakfast. Minutes later she peed on the couch again. And then on the floor right after we cleaned her up. Every time this happened we gave her encouragement and guidance, and every time she'd say, "Okay," and nod yes like she understood. Much of the morning went this way, and it seemed like relying on her to tell us when she had to go wasn't quite working. Accidents continued to happen, and our child seemed to enjoy watching Daddy clean up her messes. I swear I heard her sarcastically say, "You missed a spot!" one more than one occasion. This was not going to be easy.
Track 2: Nasty
Of all the things you need to bring into a potty training situation, cleaning supplies are definitely up near the top of the list. You will be cleaning up after your child a lot, and in our case that happened very frequently. Since we were having some difficulties early on we decided to keep Olivia off the couch and only let her sit on a small wooden chair. Luckily we have hardwood floors in our apartment, which made spotting the messes and cleaning them up fairly easy. This was a good thing, because for a while there it seemed like I was cleaning up after her every 10 minutes. She'd get lost in an activity like coloring or calculating the odds in an upcoming horse race she had a bet on, and then suddenly we'd hear the yelp signifying that another accident had happened.
The guide we were following says to pick your child up immediately when you see a sign that they have to go (or in our case after the fact) and hurry them into the bathroom to sit on the potty. Instead of pointing out what needs to happen when she has to go, all this did for Olivia was instill anger and resentment. At this point it seemed like we needed something that would help motivate our child a bit better, so I decided to try what I like to call the 'CSI scared straight approach.' While she sat on the potty protesting, I followed the trail of urine from the bathroom to the scene of the crime, marking each puddle with a numbered evidence flag. Then I made a chalk outline of the initial accident, police taped off the area, positioned all of her stuffed animals as shocked onlookers, and then brought her out to see what she had done. I pulled out my sunglasses, put them on as I made a one liner about all the messes being made, and then cued The Who's 'Won't Get Fooled Again.' Needless to say my reference was lost on her, so it was time to move on to Plan B.
Track 3: What Have You Done For Me Lately
The potty chart/sticker system we set up for our child seemed pretty straightforward: 1 sticker for a successful pee on the potty, 2 stickers for poop. Olivia asked about how many she'd get for a toot, and though we applaud her efforts those, unfortunately, do not count (but are quite hilarious). Every time a row on the chart was filled with stickers, she would get a prize from a mystery box we set up. It was filled with an assortment of things we figured she'd love to get as a reward, like small toys, books, games and office supplies (what toddler doesn't want a staple remover?). Olivia was excited at the prospect of getting a prize, but it seemed like she was never going to get there. We finally decided to throw in a gimme row of stickers for her when she halfheartedly finished going pee on the toilet after another accident. We cheered and applauded, hoping that maybe this would boost her confidence. She excitedly grabbed her prize, took it into our living room to open it up...and peed all over the floor again.
Track 4: You Can Be Mine
The rest of Day 1 went mostly the same, but there were a few bright spots. There were no accidents during her nap, and we even had a few instances where she actually told us she had to go. Jodi put Olivia down for the night while I mopped the floor to get the 'my toddler just marked her territory' smell out. Then we knocked a few back, discussed what did and didn't work, and hoped that Day 2 would bring about some positive change (and drier floors).
We knew Olivia got what we wanted her to do, the problem was getting her to want to do it. If there's anything we've learned from our child it's that she won't do anything we ask her to if she's not into it. She needs the proverbial carrot on a stick to get her motivated, so we decided to put a little more emphasis on the prize box, stickers and any other incentives we had. We also determined that Day 2 would need us to check in with Olivia every 20 minutes or so to make sure she's mindful of whether she feels like she needs to go. Basically, we were going to bug the crap out of our child all day, but make it worth her while.
Track 5: The Pleasure Principle
Day 2 began with us trying to get Olivia to go, figuring she had a full bladder from the previous night, but she refused. As the morning progressed we noticed that every so often she'd hold herself, shift her shoulders from side to side while simultaneously bringing her knees together, then throw her head back and whip her hair (which looks something like this). We'd ask whether she just had to go potty, or if she was figuring out the dance moves to her next music video, and she'd always say the latter. After about 2 hours of this she finally acknowledged that she had to go, placed her aspirations of winning the video music award for best choreography on hold, and ran into the bathroom.
Upon completing her first transaction of the day, Olivia obtained enough stickers for another prize. As she picked out her loot we high-fived her and reminded her about the big girl she was well on her way to becoming. We also noticed that her motivation for telling us when she had to go was heavily dependent on how close she was to getting something from the mystery box. If a prize wasn't involved she couldn't be bothered, much like my own ideas on what going to the gym should be like. I'd be so much more motivated to work out if I received a new book, action figure or a cupcake afterwards. Wouldn't getting a cupcake defeat the purpose, you ask? I'd just have to go back in and work out again...to get another cupcake as a reward for burning off the last one. I'd better trademark this before someone else steals the idea.
Track 6: When I Think Of You
As Day 2 continued, Olivia gradually went from paying attention every 20 minutes when we checked in with her to flat out ignoring us. We needed her to notice when she felt like she had to go, but all she wanted to pay attention to were the toys she was playing with. In fact, after her first accident of the day I asked why she didn't tell us she had to go, and she said that she wanted to play. Basically, she didn't want to interrupt her playtime with something as frivolous as evacuating her bladder. So when the feeling came up she'd do a little dance, will it back into submission, and then carried on with what she was doing. With that kind of dedication, and some practice going pee in a bottle, I'm fairly certain that our child will make a fantastic NYC cab driver some day.
Track 7: (S)He Doesn't Know I'm Alive
We hadn't left the house since beginning the potty training regimen, so we decided to go on a brief walk to get some air and a change of scenery. While out we ran into our neighbor and her daughter, who goes to the same daycare as Olivia. They joined us for the stroll, and upon returning to our building we invited them in for some play time and conversation. The minute we got inside we prompted Olivia to try and go, but she was too busy worrying about which of her toys her friend wanted to play with.
I tried getting her to focus on the task at hand, even waved my hand in front of her face, but she was completely distracted. It's funny how a toy that's been neglected for months by your child can suddenly turn into the most important toy ever, ever when another child comes over and picks it up. Olivia rushed over and did her best to try wheel and deal her friend into relinquishing the item, offering her things like every single one of her other toys, all of the savings in her piggy bank ($1.82) and a month long use of Jodi and I to cook, clean or do laundry whenever it was needed. Our child was willing to loan us out so she could get a purple plastic tea cup with a smiley face on it back into her greedy little hands. I don't blame her though, because that thing is both functional and completely adorable.
Track 8: Let's Wait Awhile
As the impromptu play date continued, we noticed the tell-tale signs that Olivia still needed to go pee pretty badly. Every time we asked if she had to go she'd stop for a second, then say, "I don't have to go," or, "In 10 minutes," as if we were supposed to believe her and set a timer. The focus of Day 2 for us was to try and reinforce Olivia recognizing when she had to go and telling us, but her focus was doing everything in her power to silence both us and the beck and call of her bladder. Unfortunately our child's willpower didn't last much longer, and the play area got hit with a flash flood of urine. Maybe next time she'll answer her bladder's call instead of sending it to voice mail.
Track 9: Funny How Time Flies (When You're Having Fun)
Day 3, and those following it, showed signs of improvement from our child. In fact, we've now been at it for about a month and while some things have improved, others have remained the same. She's gotten much better about recognizing when she has to go, and only has minor accidents here and there. Unfortunately she still seems to be holding off until the last possible minute to tell us. We're also struggling with getting her to go potty when we're out in public. We practically have to drag her into a restaurant or store bathroom and plead with her to try. Although to be fair, some of the public restrooms in NYC are horror filled nightmares to begin with, so I can't blame her much there.
We've got less than 2 months left until Olivia starts Pre-K, and I'm confident we'll have her ready to go by then. She's still struggling with certain things, like cleaning up after herself, pulling her pants up and down and lighting a match after she does a number two, so we've made those our main focus with each visit to the bathroom. My worry is that she won't be completely able to do everything and her new school won't let her attend. It would be devastating to both her and us if they won't let her in, and I'm not sure what we would do if that would happen. As a parent, I'm willing to do just about anything to make sure Olivia is happy, so I'm already thinking about backup plans. Mainly, convincing my boss to let me work remotely from the school so I can help Olivia in the bathroom until she's capable. If that's not an option, maybe I can become the school janitor. I've always wanted a cool key-chain with a retractable cord that I could attach to my belt loop. It's a small price to pay, but I'll do it for my child.